Do Savannnah

The 36th annual Savannah Jazz Festival expands on its spirit of unity

  • This year’s Savannah Jazz Festival is from Sept. 17-23. (Photo courtesy Coastal Jazz Association)

The 36th annual Savannah Jazz Festival expands on its spirit of unity

12 Sep 2017

Savannah and jazz music have shared a long and rich history, which is punctuated each year with the annual Savannah Jazz Festival.

Into its 36th year, the festival, operated by the Coastal Jazz Association along with major support from the city of Savannah, continues to expand and remains completely free. This year’s incarnation is a seven-day event, running from Sept. 17 to 23, featuring more than 20 concerts across downtown Savannah.

“It’s the community’s signature event, next to St. Patrick’s Day,” said Savannah Jazz Festival interim director Paula Fogarty. “Going into our 36th year and being totally free, that’s a big thing. I think that the attendees have always appreciated the diversity of the crowd and the quality of the music, the quality of the entertainment. We’ve never failed to deliver top, world-class performers, whether or not they are from the Lowcountry.”

The most prominent shows take place at the bandshell in Forsyth Park. The Sept. 21 blues bill will be in Forsyth, as well as the Sept. 22 four-band lineup. On Sept. 23, Forsyth will host about six hours of free jazz music beginning at 4:30 p.m.

This year, three new venues have been added. The Lucas Theatre will host a night celebrating Coastal Jazz Association co-founder Ben Tucker. The Westin Savannah Harbor’s main ballroom will host four shows on Sept. 17, and another on Sept. 19. Trinity United Methodist Church, which has become a staple live music venue in recent years, will host the Sept. 20 showcase.

Read more about the Ben Tucker tribute here.

Also, Thursday through Sunday during the fest, Rancho Alegre Cuban Restaurant, The Mansion on Forsyth Park and The DeSoto Hotel will host the traditional late-night jams, starting at 11 p.m.

“It’s certainly expanded into being,” Fogarty said. “It’s not always been a seven-day festival. Some years it was a three-day festival. Some years it was a one- or two-day festival. With the increase of the number of sponsors and donors, whether it’s in-kind or monetary contributions, we’ve been able to expand the programming significantly.

”Basically, we’ve been an all-volunteer run organization. Which is pretty incredible.”

Besides providing free jazz concerts to Savannah, the festival has acted as a unifying community event throughout its tenure. Part of Tucker’s and Teddy Adams’ original vision for the festival and the association they helped found was to unite Savannah’s different communities.

“In 36 years of our festivals, with the best racial mix you can have, there has not even almost been an incident,” Adams said. “We go through 25,000 people in a few days and not even almost an incident.”

“If you look at the composition of our board of directors, it’s the same thing,” said Coastal Jazz Association President Howard Paul. “Mixed ethnically, racially, men and women and socio-economically. I think that’s one of the things that promotes jazz. That’s the whole goal, to keep this music alive. It’s made us a little bit more cosmopolitan in a part of the country that’s not known for being very cosmopolitan.”

Interim director Fogarty echoes those sentiments.

“It brings together all cultures, all classes, peacefully, this great American genre of jazz music,” Fogarty said. “We have people who could never afford a ticket to a concert are able to enjoy really excellent music. This is one of the primary reasons the city of Savannah serves as our lead sponsor of the event. It’s a community service. It’s strengthening the social fabric of our community.”

Jazz in Savannah began around the same time jazz was birthed in New Orleans. According to local historian Charles Elmore, the jazz music of Savannah had a little different flavor than New Orleans jazz, being influenced more by African music and less by the Creoles of Louisiana. The greats all played Savannah in the old days, and clubs and bars in the city at the genre’s height of popularity roared with the sound of brass and that undeniable swing beat.

That rich history continues in the hands of younger players and older ones mixing it up on the stages during the annual September festival.

“This year, I think people are going to see an even higher quality of performances and venues,” Fogarty said. “We’re elevating the caliber of everything, all around.”


What: Savannah Jazz Festival

When: Sept. 17-23

Where: Various locations

Cost: Free



Sept. 17

The Westin Savannah Harbor Main Ballroom

3 p.m. Savannah Arts Academy Starlight Band

3:45 p.m. Armstrong State University Band

4:15 p.m. Parris Island Marine Band

5 p.m. Teddy Adams All Stars

Sept. 18

Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.

7 p.m. Ben Tucker Tribute Band

8 p.m. Ben Tucker documentary premiere

Sept. 19

The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Club, Ben Tucker Pavilion

7 p.m. Palmetto Latin Orchestra

Sept. 20

Trinity United Methodist Church, Telfair Square

7 p.m. Eric Jones Quartet

Sept. 21

Forsyth Park

6 p.m. Savannah State University Wesleyan Gospel Choir

7 p.m. Eric Culberson Band

8:15 p.m. Selwyn Birchwood

9:30 p.m. Victor Wainwright

11 p.m. Late-Night Jam at Rancho Alegre, 402 MLK Jr. Blvd.

Sept. 22

Forsyth Park

6 p.m. Randy Napoleon Quartet

7 p.m. Andy Snitzer Band

8:15 p.m. Javon Jackson Quartet

9:30 p.m. Carmen Bradford & Savannah Jazz Orchestra

11 p.m. Late-Night Jam at The Mansion on Forsyth Park, 700 Drayton St.

Sept. 23

Forsyth Park

4:45 p.m. Fort Benning Army Maneuver Center of Excellence Band

6 p.m. Savannah Jazz Hall of Fame Band

7 p.m. The Presidents with Howard Paul & Jody Espina

8:15 p.m. University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble

9:30 p.m. Wycliffe Gordon Tribute to Louis Armstrong

11 p.m. Late-Night Jam at The DeSoto Hotel, 15 E. Liberty St.